MURRAY – Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is one of those classic, delightful books from my childhood. I loved the story of the March girls: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy growing up in Concord, Massachusetts, raised by their wise mother Marmee while their father fought in the Civil War. The story follows these girls through their life lessons, loves and losses. For anyone who has sisters, like myself, it is especially a heartwarming story. I didn’t even know there was a musical based off this book, Little Women: The Broadway Musical, until just recently. I was excited to see how the cast from Murray Arts in the Park directed by Jim E. Smith would portray this beloved tale.
Overall, I feel the cast and crew did a fine job with this production. Joise Nilson played a very animated Jo and brought a lot of energy and life to the stage. Jo is a character who isn’t afraid to go against the norm and always wanted to be an author when she grew up. I particularly liked how Nilson portrayed this when acting out the stories Jo had written as she sang about them, such as in “An Operatic Tragedy.” I also could really feel Jo’s determination and zeal to follow her dreams during Nilson’s solo “The Fire Within Me.”
Shaunna Thompson gave a solid performance as Marmee, the strong and thoughtful mother of four daughters. Thompson’s solo “Here Alone” really tugged at my heart as she sang about the struggle of raising her daughters alone while her husband is away at war. I could really feel the heartache and concern that a wife and mother in any time period would face when in this situation.
Scott Cuff who played Laurie, the loveable neighborhood boy and best friend to the girls definitely grew on me. In his first scene when he introduced himself to the March girls, I hesitantly wondered if he would fill this beloved role, with his lines being so quick and abrupt. However as the musical carried on, I found him endearing. In the duet with Nilson, “Take a Chance on Me” where he shares his interest in Jo. By the end of the musical I found his performance heartfelt and fitting as he becomes part of the March family, but not necessarily how I expected.
The strong bond, love, and sometimes frustration among sisters was illustrated well by Chelsea Lindsay, Whitney Hatch and Mary-Martha Jackson who played Meg, Beth and Amy, respectively. Jackson played a perfectly pretentious Amy, especially in the scene where she wants to go to the ball, but is too young to attend. Amy throws a fit and ends up burning some of Jo’s stories, which Jackson wholeheartedly portrayed with a whiney voice of an upset younger sister. I also enjoyed Hatch’s performance of considerate and caring Beth. I thought her duet with Mr. Lawrence (played by Lynn Chatterton) “Off to Massachusetts” is where Hatch really shined. In this song, Beth is able to soften the heart of their cranky next door neighbor. Her vocals were lovely and her demeanor really showed the audience the thoughtful and sweet type of character Beth was. I thought Smith succeeded in directing his cast to thoroughly depict the personality of their character, especially when it came to the March sisters’ roles. They are each supposed to be very different and unique in their own way. I thought that was very apparent through the whole production, particularly in the first act in the scene in the attic where the March girls are planning an upcoming play written by Jo. This is where the audience was introduced to the March girls and get a feel for each of their personalities.
The live orchestra and vocal talent of the cast were strengths of this performance. The solos were well executed and the cast sang with articulation, which is especially important in musicals where the songs are telling half of the story. With that being said, there were times I felt the vocals and orchestra were not in sync during different musical numbers. I noticed this mostly in the songs “Our Finest Dreams” sung by the four March sisters and “Could You?” sung by Jo (Nilson) and Aunt March (Amberly Daines); however, this issue crept up in other songs throughout the evening.
Another issue that was a bit grating through the evening was the sound complications and audio feedback the interrupted the dialogue of the cast. This seemed to disrupt the flow of the performance. I also noticed common slip-ups I often see in community theater, such as mistakes with lines and lyrics and unsteady choreography, especially during the songs “Five Forever” and “The Most Amazing Thing.”
Even with these small issues, Murray Arts in the Park still put on an engaging, family-friendly performance. The period costuming by Lorriane Brighton Smith was rather charming. I felt the clothes; such as the ball dresses and their every day clothing really helped me get a better understanding of each March sister’s character. The set of the March home, design by Daniel Whiting, was cozy; however, I wish there were set changes to make the scenes such as Jo and Beth at the beach or Jo, Meg and Laurie at the ball feel more believable. The amphitheater in Murray Park is the perfect environment under the stars and with the chirping of crickets for a fun summer evening production.
I still hold true to with the philosophy that the book is always better than the movie or in this case the musical. It is hard to show the depth and complexities of each character in a short couple of hours. I felt some of Alcott’s characters seemed watered down compared to the actual novel. However, I would recommend this production for a pleasurable summer outing for the family. My one piece of advice is to leave the young children at home. The small children behind us were very restless before we even reached the intermission. The musical runs two and half hours long.